Science News Roundup: Carmageddon!

Flying Car

Now that's a hybrid! (Image by Berlin Location Scout via Flickr)

Flying Car Approved for Use on Road: Loyal readers will remember my daughter’s glee at learning just a few short weeks ago that there are in fact flying cars. This week I learned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved the use of what it terms “roadable aircraft.” Sadly for our Los Angeles readers facing Carmageddon this weekend, the approval is a limited one and doesn’t allow drivers to use the plane to fly over the inevitable traffic snarls on busy highways. Still, the approval clears the way for Massachusetts-based Terrafugia to begin production on their flying cars, with shipping slated for 2012. Terrafugia has already received about 100 orders for the aircraft, which are available to all comers with a driver’s license, a sport pilot license, and $250,000.

Carmageddon! continues below the fold with:

  • Regulators taking a firm stand on dangerously quiet electric cars
  • The solar-powered car that’s cruising on a twisty, two-lane road near you (if you’re in Michigan)
  • Mind control bikes (c’mon, you know you want to read more about that)

Regulators Decide Electric Cars Too Quiet: The NHTSA has certainly been busy this week, announcing a new regulation that would require electric (and hybrid) cars to emit some sort of noise to alert pedestrians of their approach by 2015. According to a study conducted in 2008 by Lawrence Rosenblum of the University of California, blindfolded pedestrians could hear a Honda Accord gas-powered engine coming while it was still 36 feet away, but didn’t hear the hybrid Toyota Prius until it was a mere 11 feet away, presumably too close for them to step out of the way. Car makers are already hard at work making their stealthy electric vehicles just a bit louder. The Nissan Leaf makes a sort of whooshing noise already, and Toyota has added an optional humming device to the Prius engine that makes it nearly as noisy as the gas-powered Honda. No word yet on whether the NHTSA will actually allow car makers to take the opportunity to brand their cars with a unique low-speed sound, but just in case, there’s a little green van at the University of Warwick busily testing all sorts of sounds to see which keep pedestrians safe and which have them scanning the skies looking for little green men.

Related article

Solar Powered Car to Tour Michigan this Summer: The coolest (solar) car I have ever seen will begin touring the state of Michigan tomorrow in preparation for the October World Solar Challenge in Australia. The 1000 mile road test will take the car, named Quantum, through St. Joseph, Ludington, Traverse City, Mackinaw City and Tawas City. Although Quantum can hit a top speed of 105 MPH, this particular road test is designed to gauge the vehicle’s stamina, not its speed, so the Quantum team will drive at a relatively sedate 40-50 mph pace along a network of two-lane roads through Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. No word on how noisy the car is compared to its gas-powered neighbors, so if you’re in the area, keep an eye out. The team has set up a blog, a Twitter feed (@umsolarcarteam), a Facebook page (, and my daughter’s favorite, a YouTube channel ( to update fans on their progress.

And for those of you tired of reading about cars, a Mind Control Bike: Beverly, Mass.-based Parlee Cycles, working with Toyota’s Prius Projects Campaign, has developed a prototype mind control bicycle that lets you shift gears by thinking into a neurotransmitter-stuffed bike helmet. This presumably will work well for bicycling enthusiasts with lots of stamina to spare, and less well for folks like me, whose ability to eke out a proper workout on a bike depends on the bike not being able to hear me when I think about shifting to an easier gear.

So, what about you? What caught your eye this week?

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to Science News Roundup: Carmageddon!

  1. Pingback: “When were cars invented?” | CATERPICKLES

  2. Pingback: “Why did the internal combustion engine win?” | CATERPICKLES

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